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Comey’s Firing Pleases Few in Washington

| published May 13, 2017, 2017 |

By R. Alan Clanton, Thursday Review editor

In the evolving, shifting story of the firing of FBI Director James Comey by President Donald Trump, one constant remains: seasoned politicians of every political stripe have deeply mixed feelings. This is a reflection, no doubt, of the love-hate, yin-yang of Comey’s long career in the spotlight, and a vindication, some might say, that he must have been doing his job well. It is often a badge of honor to be able to say that one rarely pleases everyone at all times.

First, there is the President’s world.

Trump has called Comey an ineffectual leader in law enforcement, unpopular with FBI agents, and “a showboat.” Additionally, Trump has said that as FBI Director, Comey “should have never exonerated” Hillary Clinton, Trump’s general election adversary long under a cloud of investigation for her use of an unsecured server and a non-secure non-government email address.

As for the connections between top Trump people and Moscow, the President has gone to excruciatingly great pains to craft a narrative of personal innocence, developing a Twitter trail intended to show the public that Trump was never directly under investigation by the FBI or the Justice Department in the Russia-Trump probe. The President has said that on at least three separate occasions, he received assurance from Comey that he—Mr. Trump—was not the subject of investigation.

Then there is the other, alternate universe.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who at a public speech only ten days ago virtually blamed her election debacle on Comey and his pre-election, eleventh-hour announcement that he would again place Clinton’s email under the investigative spotlight, has executed a political pirouette, now expressing sympathy for the man she still considers the catalyst for her loss in November. Now she fears that Comey’s summary departure will quash any further serious investigation into the Russia-Trump-Election mash-up—meaning she will never find confirmation for her bitterly-held belief that her election loss was the result of skullduggery by Vladimir Putin and his relentless hackers.

The New York Times is quoting people close to Clinton who say she now openly theorizes that Comey must “have been on to something,” thus President Trump’s itching desire to dump Comey and—in Trump’s mind—end the probe once and for all.

Trump—acting on what the White House described on Tuesday and Wednesday as negative performance reports from Attorney General Jeff Sessions and deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein—insisted that Comey be dismissed from his post. Comey, who was in California for s speaking engagement at a law enforcement conference, heard the news and quickly flew back to Washington, D.C., whereupon his was effectively terminated from his top spot at the FBI.

The moved sparked a complicated hailstorm of criticism, skepticism, and outright suspicion, with Republicans worried that Trump may be seeking to minimize Russian meddling in U.S. politics and policy, and with Democrats suggesting nothing less than a repeat of the infamous Saturday Night Massacre, when in October of 1973 President Richard Nixon fired Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox and accepted the resignations of Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckleshaus. Democrats in Congress are now calling for an independent commission to investigate.

It did not help matters that optics and timing played a nearly instantaneous role: only hours after the announcement that Comey had been dumped, the White House revealed that the President would meet with top Russian officials, including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the Russian ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislak. Kislak and Lavron have both been named in the various investigations as having direct links in 2015 or 2016 to several top Trump campaign officials.

It also did not make things move more smoothly when it was revealed that Comey, as recently as Monday of last week and only one day before his dismissal, had formally requested additional resources from the Department of Justice and other agencies in the widening investigation into the Russia-U.S. Election probes, into Russian hacking of U.S. intelligence agencies and American businesses, and into the possibility of collusion by Trump campaign operatives and the top brass in Moscow. Coincidence? No, say many Democrats. And there are plenty of Republicans in Congress who—while stopping just short of calling the President a puppet of Putin, as Clinton had done in a debate in October—are in agreement that an independent investigative body should be immediately charged with looking more deeply into a thickening narrative.

The President now says he intended to fire Comey all along, from almost the first day of business inside the Oval Office. But there had been other more pressing matters—health care legislation, the Keystone XL Pipeline, an increasingly unstable and unpredictable North Korea, atrocities in Syria. Comey was spared for another day, which become another week and finally months.

Trump also told Lester Holt of NBC News that he had multiple conversations with Comey in which the FBI Director offered assurances—solicited and unsolicited—that the new President was not personally the target of any of the Russian investigations. Trump freely admits he initiated the question twice.

But sources inside the FBI have told some reporters a radically different story, suggesting that Trump is surely at the heart of what the FBI is looking into. Law enforcement experts, some of them former FBI agents, suggest that in a case like the Russia-Election probe, an investigation into the facts without Trump as a person of interest is absurd, and that an FBI Director would, at the least, simply offer no comment or avoid specifics if asked directly—even by a President. Another former FBI agent put it more bluntly: to leave Trump out of any probe would be “like writing a book about NASA and the moon, and never mentioning Neil Armstrong.”

Trump also insists that a large part of his reasoning behind firing Comey pre-dates his Presidency. Trump says that Comey should have never exonerated Clinton for her role in using a personal, unsecured email account to send and receive classified or sensitive State Department correspondence and documents.

For his part, former FBI director Comey says he has no regrets on his recent and controversial dismissal from his job at the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Comey, who was summarily fired from his post by President Trump on Tuesday, attempted to brush aside regret and second-guessing, telling fellow law enforcement officials that he believes a U.S. President has the authority to dismiss the head of the FBI for any reason, “or for no reason at all,” according to a letter obtained by CNN, NBC News and other news organizations.

Comey’s firing came as a surprise to many in Washington, and the former FBI director’s summary dismissal sparked a tempest in Congress—among both Democrats and Republicans concerned that the White House may be seeking to overtly undercut the effectiveness of several concurrent investigations into links between several top Trump campaign officials and Moscow, and probes into whether Russia may have interfered in the 2016 election in the U.S.

President Trump—along with press spokespersons and surrogates—has said that Comey’s job performance was lacking. But Democrats, along with many Republicans, are deeply suspicious of the timing of Comey’s firing, which came only a day after Comey had requested additional resources for the Russia-Trump-Election probes, and only hours before the White House announced high level meetings between the President and Russian diplomats.

In recent days Trump has said bluntly that the investigations into the Russia-Trump-Election matter are based entirely on fake information. In short, it is a hoax. Trump blames Comey, at least in part, for the irritation of waking up each day to more news about the probes.

But Comey has told fellow FBI and law enforcement officials that he plans to move on with his life without regret or worries over his actions at the Bureau.

“I am not going to spend time on the decision or the way it was executed,” Comey wrote in his letter, “I hope you won’t either. It is done, and I will be fine…”

Comey added that he will miss the challenges of law enforcement in the 21st century, and will miss those he worked alongside at the Bureau.

“It is very hard to leave a group of people who are committed only to doing the right thing,” Comey said in his letter. “My hope is that you will continue to live our values and the mission of protecting the American people and upholding the Constitution. If you do that, you too will be sad when you leave, and the American people will be safer.”

In the meantime, former deputy director Andrew McCabe will serve as acting director pending approval in Congress of whomever Trump chooses as Comey’s permanent replacement. Trump will not likely choose McCabe, who has already testified before Congress as recently as last week that the Russia-Election probe will continue, and that even a U.S. President does not have the power to turn off such an investigation.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Comey Dismissal Sparks Outrage in Congress; Thursday Review staff; Thursday Review; May 10, 2017.

New Email Problems May Dog Clinton Through Election Day; Thursday Review staff; Thursday Review; October 30, 2016.